First, I times even I indulge in superstition. If a superstition is found to be based on fact, it is reliable; based on falsehood(s), and it is rarely or never reliable. I may use certain lures based on reasons that have no basis, yet those lures may always be depended on to catch fish - any fish, anytime!
For the sake of discussion, let me indulge in the possible reasons fish strike lures and live prey, for as we know from many experiences, anything is possible when it involves fish striking lures or feeding. One way to describe how and why fish attack is to consider what an artificial fish - a robofish if you will - would require to detect, track, analyze and attack any object it deemed objectionable to it's peaceful state of inactivity (not of mind in that fish don't possess them).
On YouTube I was completely fooled by a lure that was a perfect copy of a bluegill twitching and dying in it's last throes. A bass kept attacking it but didn't consume it. The lure had the exact shape and coloration of a gill, but most important, the built in action that kept that bass incensed. In order for a robofish to exactly simulate a predator fish, it would have to have the following attributes:
Extreme sensitivity to object motion, either as a whole and of parts of the object that exhibit specific actions no matter how subtle. Subtlety in nature is a fact and predators must be able to detect it on average to target an animal that protects itself by being less conspicuous. Prey animals rarely dart around crazily or thump hard objects to call attention to themselves. Man has made motion detectors as sensitive as the lateral line which is capable of inputting to a fish's simple brain, object speed, size and action. A fish's eyes do the rest.
Visual acuity must be such that object contrast details add to the total picture. Humans may see an exact duplicate of a juicy steak and if hungry, salivate, but fish don't need imitation to generate impulses that make it react.
What consists of object contrast elements? Contrast against any background to start: against the surface, to the side or to the bottom. Color contrasts involve: object brightness no matter how subtle; light reflection off the objects surface; hue as in the case of florescent colors or white; colors that contrast within the object (two tone, spots, stripes); and of course flash - light reflection based on light intensity.
Even black flakes within a soft plastic lure create visual contrast regardless of hue or plastic transparency.
Hue involves the detection of wave lengths - something any good robofish is capable of. It knows the difference between green and orange, but does the consideration of color make a difference in what fish deem important enough to provoke it? I am one of many that say it can, but my superstition is my excuse.
I love a perch color patterns: green, chartreuse and orange. I don't believe fish think that combo imitates a perch, but I believe the combination provocative as I do many other favorite colors such as florescent pink. The example provided shows one incredible lure design (Kut-tail Worm) dyed two different colors from the original chartreuse. One shows a solid color bright contrast; another shows basic contrast (dark against light)); and the top one shows a perch color combo.
Flash is evident in nature and pertains to silver sided minnows that flash when excited. But subtle flash that may not be evident to the human eye is easily visualized by our robofish and any fish with eyes in its head. Any reflection of light off any shiny object's surface alerts fish of an initial presence no matter the hue.
Does a lure have to be colored to be detected? Any lure regardless of shape is seen by fish because light that passes through is warped and reflected internally creating a shape that is obvious. I've caught many fish on clear plastic baits.
A lure's shape and size are very important but not in the sense of matching anything in nature. A cube is not natural nor is a coil, but a slim shape is. Shape contributes to a lure's action, among other things and action speaks louder than most lure characteristics. Lure action consists of 1. total body action and 2. body part action.
Total body action is affected by tail action such as that of a broad curl tail or boot shaped shad tail. Wobble is the closest description I can come up with. Tail design-imparted, body action is best exemplified by a curly tail or Slider Grub tail (below). In the case of a crankbait, it's the dive lip. A thin straight or prong tail (below) exhibits quiver - one of the best provocative actions ever molded in soft plastics.
Even the largest fish is affected by the smallest lure moving at the right speed, of the right shape, etc. etc. etc. This bass decided to smack this wee little paddle tail grub in 4' of water.
Our robofish is programmed to become excited by any subtle object motion as is any fish worth it's scales.
Finally, what is the sequence applicable to a real fish or our fake simulation?
2. instant analysis of the objects size, shape, speed, motions, and contrast (color, flash).
3. attention focused long enough for an involuntary sequence to happen:
a. a revving up of its aggression level from an inactive state.
b. explosive action to plainly stop the object in it's tracks.
As we know how our knee reacts to the thump of a rubber hammer, all fish responses are initially reflexive meaning involuntary in nature. The only difference is that our knee doesn't have eyes, a lateral line or taste/odor detection that determine what it does next.
Now, I would never claim that any bait is foolproof but that some baits work most times in most conditions - ice fishing not one of them. IMO The laws of lure use must follow a certain formula to be successful:
right time / right place + right retrieve + right lure design = strike provocation
I have used a few lure designs that caught many fish under the ice and were as successful as spikes, though at times only spikes and the like caught fish. Once the water warms to 45 degrees or more, most lures that have worked well in the past always caught fish, and I'm talking many soft plastic designs.
Granted, not all fish at all times are susceptible to lures or even live bait - it could be a stupor that can't be broken in that hour. But fish that are susceptible, individually or in a group, for some reason don't seem to tolerate certain lures trespassing on their turf and do everything they can to let the object know it, or in any case stop the tease. In fact, the best reason I can come up with as to why fish strike lures is the tease factor - something about a lure that irritates the senses similar to a nagging itch you and I must scratch or go crazy trying. Fish must be close to sense the cause of the itch before it can be provoked to scratching it. Some call the sensation a hunger pang; I call it sense overload that prompts aggression.
If the fish ignored your bait (lure or live?), there are many reasons having to do with why fish bite or not - the most important being what a fish wants, the way it wants it and where as well as when.
What a fish wants is a poor expression suggesting a preference based on a fish comparing one lure to others or some live prey animal. What instead pertains to lure-related factors most likely to generate strikes. When and where are the first factors necessary to discover and along with the best presentation (the way it wants it), increases one's chances of catching more fish via a pattern that is repeated in other areas.
Much of fishing is based on chance (and for some, just plain dumb luck), but taking into consideration the above, ups one's chances and stacks the deck in our favor vs. those who fish blindly, casting to places less likely to hold fish, using baits less likely to provoke strikes no matter the number of casts.
As you digest the above, please at least believe one thing - lure design matters and because of it, not all lures of similar design are equal.